Alessandro Sciarroni's FOLK-S: will you still love me tomorrow?, on at The Dance Centre through this evening in a co-presentation with the PuSh Festival and the Italian Cultural Centre, is at once a practice-based experiment in dance ethnography and a durational work of conceptual choreography. Part of a larger project investigating time, tradition and the role of the popular in contemporary dance, Sciarroni and his fellow performers (Marco D'Agostin, Pablo Esbert Lilienfeld, Francesca Foscarini, Matteo Ramponi, and Francesco Vecchi) taught themselves the Schuhplattler, a folk dance performed in Bavaria, the Austrian Tyrol, and the German-speaking part of northern Italy; it involves men dressed in lederhosen slapping their shoes and thighs, historically for the purposes of attracting a female mate. With the blessing of the professional Schuplattler groups to whom the team showed their efforts, Sciarroni then set about building a formal structure in which the dance was purposefully stripped of its cultural and geographical associations, becoming a task-based display of pure technique and real-time composition. He also added the following stipulation: the dance is to continue until there is either no one left in the audience or there are no more dancers on stage.
As the audience enters the Faris studio, the six dancers are in a circle, already pounding out a percussive rhythm with their feet. Only Sciarroni is dressed in lederhosen and wearing a Tyrolean wool hat; the others wear regular shorts and shirts. Additionally, all the dancers but Sciarroni have their eyes covered with a strip of white tape for this opening section. For it is sound, more than any other sensory element, that becomes the measure of whether or not the dancers remain in unison over the course of the piece, as well as the gauge of their initially ecstatic and gradually flagging energy levels. Subtle variations in spatial groupings, rhythm, and of course the sequence of steps and slaps are introduced over the course of the piece, with the dancers calling out various signals to each other and also pausing occasionally to rest or regroup. Sciarroni grabs an accordion at one point, but he doesn't produce any music from it, merely opens and closes its bellows, simulating the dancers' gulping exhalations and inhalations of breath. By ruthlessly stripping the dance of its traditional cultural associations in this way, Sciarroni makes the mechanics of its execution all about the presentness of the dancers, and also of us in the audience. That is, in FOLK-S not only are we witness to how the contract between the dancers is being negotiated in the moment (from who takes the lead in initiating a sequence to the level of difficulty of a sequence to who decides when they've had enough), but we are also invited to reflect on what we are bringing (in terms of energy and attention and kinetic response) to the space.
People did leave at different points during the performance last night, but most of us stayed, willing the dancers to go on despite their exhaustion. In this Sciarroni's piece is less a testament to how art survives over time than it is a pulsating, full-throttle encounter with the very art of survival.